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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The heliograph, a device that uses flashes from a mirror reflecting sunlight as signals, represents human vanity. It is much less advanced technology in comparison to the Martian’s heat-ray, fighting machines, and poisonous vapor, and the humans exhibit extreme hubris in thinking that they will be able to overcome the Martians with their less-advanced artillery and technology. The heliograph is a relatively simple contrivance that the military uses to signal each other in an attempt at long-distance communication. The Narrator tells the curate when they first fall in together that it is a comforting sight which means that help is imminent. It is uncertain if the Narrator personally believes that help is on the way, or if he is simply trying to pacify the curate who is acting irrationally. The Narrator knows at this point about the heat-ray guns because he has seen them in action, so it is unrealistic of him to believe that humanity’s simple technology can be of much use against the Martians’ advanced weapons.
Churches and church bells are prevalent throughout the novel, symbolizing this noble institution of humanity and humans’ faith in a higher power to protect and save them. On the Sunday following the Martians’ Friday landing, the Narrator’s brother goes to church as though it is any other Sunday. Church bells ring for evensong and Salvation Army girls walk down the street singing, which shows that the church is carrying on despite the looming danger. All the churches are soon ringing their bells as a warning to citizens, however, and then sounding alarm bells in an attempt to get people to flee London. Once the Martians start releasing their poisonous black gas, one man takes refuge in a church spire, which is one of the only places high enough to avoid the gas. Other people use the church towers as a haven from which to look out for Martians, thinking surely that they are safe in the house of God. Near the end of the novel, the Narrator refers to the cracked spire of the church and the injured dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, showing that even this institution is not exempt from the power of the Martians, but there is hope since they are not ruined completely.
As the Narrator’s brother is in the maelstrom attempting to flee London, he sees a blind man who symbolizes humanity’s blindness to what is happening and the fact that they are not the dominant creatures of the universe. The blind man, who stands in a cart wearing a Salvation Army uniform and calling out about the end of the world, has missed the point. This is not the second coming of Christ signaling the end of the world, but another type of Armageddon between good and evil. The Narrator makes it clear at the beginning of the novel that the Martians have been studying Earth for some time while humans blindly went about their daily tasks. Humans remain unperceptive even after the invasion has started, with many dead and the countryside and buildings destroyed. As the blind evangelist makes a last effort to win people for Christ, he is both literally and figuratively blind. He does not see that a power greater than humanity exists and has come to spread destruction and take over. He believes that the supreme power of God is at hand when God has nothing to do with the current situation. The humans trying to flee do not understand what is happening because most of them have not seen the Martians. They are in a blind panic, in some cases causing their own deaths because they do not understand the nature of the new enemy.